A civilizational collapse (sometimes called a social collapse or a societal collapse) is a drastic decrease in human population size, or in political, economic or social complexity, across essentially the entire world, for an extended period of time. Civilizational resilience is humanity’s capacity to resist, or recover from, civilizational collapse.
In Toby Ord’s typology, unrecoverable civilizational collapse constitutes one of the three main types of existential catastrophe.
80,000 Hours rates civilizational resilience a “potential highest priority area”: an issue that, if more thoroughly examined, could rank as a top global challenge.
Aird, Michael (2020a) Collection of sources that seem very relevant to the topic of civilizational collapse and/or recovery, Effective Altruism Forum, February 24.
Many additional resources on this topic.
Aird, Michael (2020b) Civilization re-emerging after a catastrophic collapse, Effective Altruism Forum, June 27.
Denkenberger, David & Jeffrey Ladish (2019) Civilizational collapse: scenarios, prevention, responses, Foresight Institute, June 24.
Hanson, Robin (2008) Catastrophe, social collapse, and human extinction, in Nick Bostrom & Milan M. Ćirković (eds.) Global Catastrophic Risks, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 363–377.
Jebari, Karim (2019) Civilization re-emerging after a catastrophic collapse, EAGxNordics, April 7.
Ladish, Jeffrey (2020) Update on civilizational collapse research, Effective Altruism Forum, February 10.
Manheim, David (2020) A (very) short history of the collapse of civilizations, and why it matters, Effective Altruism Forum, August 30.
Rodriguez, Luisa (2020) What is the likelihood that civilizational collapse would directly lead to human extinction (within decades)?, Effective Altruism Forum, December 24, 2020.
Tainter, Joseph A. (1989) The Collapse of Complex Societies, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wiblin, Robert & Arden Koehler (2020) Mark Lynas on climate change, societal collapse & nuclear energy, 80,000 Hours, August 20.
Wiblin, Robert & Keiran Harris (2021) Luisa Rodriguez on why global catastrophes seem unlikely to kill us all, 80,000 Hours, November 19.
broad vs. narrow interventions | dystopia | existential catastrophe | existential risk | existential risk factor | movement collapse
Ord, Toby (2020) The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, fig. 5.2.
80,000 Hours (2022) Our current list of pressing world problems, 80,000 Hours.
I expect many people would use that term to also include civilisation’s capacity to withstand shocks without collapsing in the first place. To quickly check, I googled the term, chose one of the links at random, and indeed slide 5 has a more inclusive definition of resilience.
Thanks. I’ve edited the sentence. In the future, we may want to note explicitly that sometimes, especially in EA circles, ‘resilience’ is used narrowly to include only humanity’s capacity to recover from, rather than to resist, civilizational collapse (or global catastrophes more generally). See footnote 2 in Cotton-Barratt, Daniel & Sandberg 2020.
I think we may as well cut the c-risk term, because:
I’m not aware of it being used anywhere other than that one post
“collapse risk” or “risk of collapse” aren’t super long phrases anyway
We probably don’t want to have an endlessly expanding list of letter-risk terms; stopping at x-risk, s-risk, and GCR seems fine to me
Having a large list of such terms (especially if introduced in blog posts and used only within our community) might seem kind-of gimmicky to people who we’d like to take what we say about collapse risk seriously
Fair enough—I removed it.
I think it’d be good to change the first sentence so that it acknowledges there are many different possible definitions, that we might want to call something “collapse” even if there’s only a decline on some rather than all of those dimensions (e.g., massive loss of population and GDP, but with tech and political systems intact), and that population is another key dimension.
Have you stumbled upon a definition or characterization of ‘civilizational collapse’ that we could adapt?
I looked into this briefly last year, and wrote:
That’s still the definition I personally favour (though I wouldn’t be surprised if someone could convince me to favour something else).
Great, I’ve updated the article with your proposal (I made minor changes; feel free to revise).